Friday, 11 April 2014

Toobin' (Atari Games/Tengen, 1988)

Original game design by Milt Loper -- Coded by Dennis Harper, Gary Stark and Dusty Rawe -- Animations by Will Noble, Mark West and Deborah Short -- Audio by Brad Fuller and Hal Canon -- Engineered by Gary Stempler and Doug Snyder -- Technics by Dave Wiebenson -- With additional help from Rich Moore, Mike Albaugh, Marty Levy, Jess Melchor, Lyle Rains, Pat McCarthy, Cris Drobny and Marty Viljamaa.

This game has so many conversions, and so many differently compiled teams were working on them, that for the first time ever on this blog, I felt I needed to create a separate full credits list, so let's start with that one. This bit of text is only here to keep the stuff in the main blog page in form. So, if you happen to be on the main page, why don't you click on that "Read more" link below to read more. =P


Nintendo Entertainment System conversion:
Coded by Franz Lanzinger and David O'Riva
Graphics by Gregg Williams and David O'Riva
Audio by Brad Fuller, Don Diekneite, John Paul and Susan Lanzinger
Published by Tengen in 1989

Amstrad CPC, Atari ST/STe, MSX & ZX Spectrum conversions:

Coded by Shaun Hollingworth and James Tripp
Graphics by Mark Potente
Music by Matt Furniss
Published by Domark in 1989

Commodore 64 conversion:
Coded by Shaun Hollingworth and Mike Talbot
Graphics by Mark Potente
Music by Matt Furniss
Published by Domark in 1989

IBM conversion:
Coded by H. Gecko
Graphics by Teque and H. Gecko
Audio by David Whittaker

Commodore Amiga conversion:
Coded by Shaun Hollingworth, James Tripp and Craig Grist
Graphics by Mark Potente
Music by Matt Furniss
Published by Domark in 1990

GameBoy Color conversion by Midway and Digital Eclipse Software Inc.:
Executive producer: Andrew Ayre
Technical director: Mike Mika
Coded by Mark Fitt and Alex Amsel
Music by Allister Brimble
Art direction by Boyd Burggrabe
Art by Dean Lee, Tom Lisowski, Granted Savage, Tynan Wales, Desi Art Team
Procuded by Marcus Lindblow, Zach Wood and Jeff Truax
Technical director: Sam Calis
Product testing manager: Rob Sablan
Product testing supervisor: Steve Kramer
Technical standards analysts: Kevin Pimentel
Special thanks to Brian Lowe, Jason Barnes, Ian James and Mark Miller
Published by Midway and Nintendo in 1998



After digging up all the credits for each version, I'm almost disinclined to write this comparison at all, but since it was a request, I might as well get on with it. The request was made at the World of Spectrum forum in January by a user named slenkar, so this one's for you. Toobin' has always been an oddity for me, for a number of reasons. First of all, the idea of the game was so completely alien to me, that the only other time I had seen any sports utilising tires' inner tubes before playing this game for the first time, was in Ski Or Die!, and even in that game the whole idea seemed useless. My first gaming experience with Toobin' was on the C64, when I bought a tape from a discount lot of unsold new games a couple of years after the commercial decline of the 8-bits, and before then, I had only seen one full-page advertisement in a magazine of it. It felt fresh and unique at the time, but it was difficult to get into, due to the quirky controls. Had I known then, that the arcade original had a significantly different control system, I would have understood earlier on, what was so wrong about the home conversions. Take a look at this John's Arcade video showing you the cabinet close-up to see what I mean. Now, it's time for me to take a look at all the versions of the game, and see if any of them gets even close to the original.

Let's go for the obligatory list of current ratings from our favourite sources, then. Tengen's own conversion for the NES has earned a B rating at Questicle; CPC Game Reviews have given the Amstrad version a 7 out of 10; the DOS version has been given a 3.4 out of 5.0 at MobyGames; 15 World of Spectrum users have given it a 7.33; at Lemon64, 14 users have rated it with a lousy 4.9; 25 LemonAmiga voters have given their version just a bit less awkward 5.16; the rating at Generation-MSX is four stars out of five; the Atari ST version has been given a relatively generous 7.4 at Atarimania, and finally, the GBC version has been given a poor 4.7 out of 10 at Gamespot. Well, I didn't really go over my head to find any better Nintendo-fan-based reviews... but nevermind, let's get on with it.



Toobin', in the very basics, is a reversed version of River Raid - a vertically scrolling shoot'em up, in which you control some sort of vessel through a number of levels, but in the opposite direction. The addition of a competitive two-player mode makes the game more of a racing game, but the essentials remain the same. The big difference here is the way you control your aquatic vehicle. Originally, the game had five buttons to control your man in the tube - two buttons for back pedaling, two for pedaling ahead (left and right hands, obviously), and one button for shooting (throwing cans) and also for starting the game. Naturally, most of the conversions had a more limited control method due to the limitations of a joystick, but we'll get deeper into that later on.

So, the game has three difficulty levels (or classes), all with five different rivers to paddle through, each with different obstacles and enemies you need to navigate or shoot your way through and defend yourself against. Being an arcade game at heart, you fight for the highest score, which can be gathered by paddling through gates, shooting down enemies, collecting items and the TOOBIN' letters. Originally, the added bonus with collecting the letters was the chance to win a free t-shirt, but that possibility ended at the end of 1989. Also, the game originally ended after having gone through all the stages twice, but I haven't been able to confirm whether this is true for any the home conversions.

Because the time you will have to take to get used to the controls is slightly longer than in most arcade games, you might get enjoyment out of Toobin' for a bit longer once you master the controls. It just isn't one of the most user-friendly games to pick up when you want to have a go against your friends, and can easily become overlooked as a potentially good time waster. But just playing it by yourself is rewarding enough for a good while, even though all the additional achievement bonuses have long ceased to exist. I could recommend it with caution - it's a good game, but you need to have the version that's really the best for you in order to enjoy it.



As could be expected, the original arcade version only has a few competitors in terms of loading times, which are the DOS, NES and GBC versions, but as has been the custom lately, we will only take a look at the tape versions' loading times, although this time only the quickest versions are listed. Now, though, because there are so many non-loading versions around, the Overall scores section will not feature the optional loading scores. In any case, all the machines that have a tape version, seem to have also a disk version released, so there is no point in actually giving any consideration of worth for the tape versions.

Amstrad CPC: 4 minutes 54 seconds
Commodore 64: 3 minutes 36 seconds
MSX: 5 minutes 29 seconds (2400 baud)
ZX Spectrum: 5 minutes 26 seconds (Hit Squad re-release)

So, if anyone has all of these computers, but no disk drive or any modern device to load your games more quickly, then why don't you get one? Anyway, this time I will be making an exception, as the loading screens that actually are loading screens will be now shown in the Graphics section, because most versions don't have loading screens at all - having title screens instead. The two screens shown above are from the C64 and MSX tape loaders.



This is going to be a bit difficult to compare, because there are at least four different ways to play Toobin'. Naturally, the original arcade version has only one control method, which, as has already been said, goes by five buttons, four for paddling your toober left, right, forwards and backwards and one for throwing a can straight ahead of you. In a sense, this version can truly be counted as a sports game - not only because of the theme, but also because you have to be smashing the buttons quite a lot in order to make enough points to get to the high scores list, which is what the arcades are all about.

All the primarily pad- and joystick-controlled versions take away that aspect of "sport" from the genre. All of the home computer versions seem to follow a similar setup: joysticks and keyboards are optional, and if you want to use keyboard, the controls are similar to the arcade version - five buttons in all + pause and quit keys. Naturally, the NES and Gameboy versions can only be played with the pads, but the NES has unique different approach to the controls: your toober will only go downwards, and moving the D-pad in any direction makes your character move into that specific direction on the screen, and not respective to where your character is heading; and the two fire buttons are for firing in left and right diagonals ahead of you, so this version is already missing some of the important gameplay features from the original. The Gameboy controls aren't completely right either: turning left and right turn your character clockwise and counter-clockwise, but in the wrong way. The other fire button accelerates and the other shoots forwards, so it's not completely wrong either, but it's certainly difficult to get used to after playing all the other versions for a good while.

An important difference to separate the arcade version from the home conversions is the amount of levels. You already know from the Description section (if not from previous knowledge), that the arcade original has three difficulty levels which repeat, and that all of the three levels have five different river sections. Well, only the Gameboy Color version has the same level structure, and it has been taken as far as giving the player the ability to warp the first two classes from warp points at the beginning of every class. The NES version almost has a similar structure, but the river sections aren't joint together, and the warp points are in different places, and have their own zones to play through. All the other home conversions share their own similar formula: the whole game is played in one long river with something like 10 or more consecutive sections - I'm not entirely sure, because I have no idea how they should be counted, with all the in-between sections and everything. It's all perfectly playable, but it feels like a preview, or a playable demo version of the complete game.

Although the game speed isn't all that important in this case, since all the versions have a good balance of your own movement speed to the speed of all the obstacles and enemies, it might as well be noted that there are some rather drastic differences in scrolling and the basic playing speed. Compared to the arcade original, which seems reasonably quick, the C64 version feels hyperactive, although it's still very playable. Significantly slower versions are unsurprisingly on the Spectrum, MSX and Amstrad, but they all still manage to be superbly playable, and if you hadn't played the C64 version before taking a turn on any of those three, you would think they weren't all that far from the arcade, which indeed, they are not. The NES version runs very smoothly, and the speed is spot on. The GBC version isn't too different from the arcade, in terms of scrolling speed, either. And as you would expect, the DOS, Amiga and Atari ST versions are as close to the original in terms of scrolling as far as anyone can tell.

Only some random things are left to be said, so let's go with the flow then. What is ultimately so disappointing about the NES version, is the way the game behaves regarding the player's deaths - exactly because it plays so much like a traditional NES game. Instead of letting you continue from the spot where you lost a life, you get a traditional type of a "get ready" screen before the game again puts you at the beginning of the level where you died, so it adds to the amount of useless frustration that this game causes. On the plus side, it does seem to have more of the original levels in tact, but it's very difficult to get too far. Next, the DOS version using Tandy Graphics Adapter has a continue-related bug that makes your player sprite disappear from view, although everything you do with it and what the enemies and obstacles do to you are still effective. Then, the collision detection on  the three slowest versions is slightly off, making you for instance occasionally bump into things that aren't there, like when there is a clear space between a gate and some bits of cliff that you should be able to go through, you bump into the space between. But the most interesting version of the lot, considering its reviews, is the Gameboy Color version. Why has it been rated so badly? So far, only the controls are a bit mixed up, but that shouldn't be much of a reason not to try and enjoy the game, if you only re-learned the controls. Well, the thing is, the GBC version doesn't have much anything in the game to make it interesting or challenging. The relative lack of enemies and obstacles in the beginning is disheartening to say the least, although it gets better, gradually. Also, you know how the gates lose their value if you bump into them? While all the other versions share the same feature, the GBC version misses this little point of challenge. So, basically, it's the light version of the full game.

Naturally, I will have to give the full points to the original arcade version, because not only has it so much more to offer than most of the home conversions, but also because it's how it was meant to be played. Because the speed of the game is only of importance when you take each individual's reaction time into consideration, every version gets the same points there. What will be counted as important this time, are the amount of gameplay, the controllability and the random things that make each version unique. As the SPE/CPC/MSX threesome have some collision detection issues, I decided that for this reason alone, they will be placed lower than the C64. All the rest of the placings should be clear enough.

3. C64
6. NES



It seems a bit silly to even get deeper into graphics in this case, since there are practically only a very few things that need adressing to make the comparison worth anything. Most of the screen is taken by water anyway, which, depending on the platform, has varying degrees of watery effects. The most amount of waves and such appear on the arcade original and 16-bits (DOS, Amiga and ST), whereas the smallest amount of water effects are on all the 8-bits (C64, Spectrum, Amstrad, MSX and NES), although the Gameboy Color version has some nice effects.

Screenshots from the arcade version.

The most important part in the graphics, in most cases, is played by the small objects in the water, which you will either need to avoid or collect, such as logs, rocks, treasure chests, soda/beer cans, patches (for extra lives), and so on. Most of the versions have this bit covered very well, if differently to match the overall graphical style in each version, and no need to dwell on it. The only version that causes some object recognition problems is the Gameboy version, which has such a small screen that the items and obstacles are so minuscule that it's sometimes difficult to see, which item is bad and which one is good.

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version.
Screenshots from the MSX version.
On the Spectrum, MSX and Amstrad versions, however, the most important aspect in graphics is the same engine giving you some headache with the attribute clash thing, which doesn't always show up, but is certainly hidden in the background in evil ways. Sometimes, when for example two cliffs are close enough to each other, you will find it impossible to go through a passage that otherwise looks like you could paddle through it, because the cliff bits happen to be an entire character block's worth on both sides, rendering a normally passable looking bit of chasm impassable, although you do get through it eventually, when the forced screen scrolling forces you through it. A similar problem, if a bit lesser in importance, is experienced with the most narrow gates, as you will need to go through them precisely from the middle - otherwise you will bump into the "blocks" that hold the gate. Often, though, the game will not even recognize your having gone through the gates anyway for some reason. So, although the game looks very nice, it doesn't work as well as it could because of the graphics.

All the other screenshots are from the Commodore Amiga version, except the rightmost ones are from Atari ST.

About looking nice, then: what makes the game entertaining in terms of graphics, is the way it changes the scenery so suddenly and effortlessly. On the three previously mentioned machines, this has been handled by very clearly changing the main colour of your surroundings, but it is a neat transition with some space between the areas while on the move. On the NES version, each transition will be made through an end-level warp and a "get ready" screen, which feels very cheap. But the level graphics themselves are rather nice, clear and colourful. Too bad the player characters haven't been animated in any other way than to make them paddle downwards, it makes it all feel even cheaper. All the other versions emulate the style from the arcade original - no transition space whatsoever, just a straight switch to the new section. On the 16-bits and Gameboy Color, this looks very natural, but the C64 version suffers from an overly similar colour scheme in places. Additionally, the GBC, Amiga and Atari ST versions have been made to follow the arcade version's example so far as to copy the change in the colour of water when going to more evil-looking places, although I can't say for sure if this is true for the GBC version, since I have been unable to get that far in it.

Screenshots from the DOS versions.

As random as this section has so far been in accordance to the screenshots, let's keep the randomness up and talk about the loading/title screens then. The original arcade title screen has the waterfall in the background animated, and the only versions that have this feature copied are on the Amiga, Atari ST and the three most capable DOS versions. All the other versions that have this screen featured in some way feel very messy, as the waterfall background feels a bit random without the movement it is supposed to have. Strangely enough, the Atari ST version features another loading screen in addition to the actual title screen, which has no animated features at all, and looks exactly like the sort of loading screen that all the other versions that actually need to load the game with time, should have had in some form.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.

The Amiga and Atari ST versions have already been dealt with as far as I see fit, but the DOS versions need some more analysing. All the 5 different versions using different graphics adapters are basically the same game, but very little rebalancing seems to have been done for the Tandy, Hercules and EGA versions, so using the CGA and VGA settings will give you the least messy look from the DOS versions. And I already mentioned the continue-bug earlier that appears in the Tandy version.

Screenshots from the Gameboy Color version.
Screenshots from the NES version.

As for the 8-bits, the Spectrum/MSX/Amstrad three-some has the same engine, which looks mostly the same, and which is pretty enough, but less colourful - as in, all the sprites and surrounding terrain and other elements are monochrome (blue-and-something), although some random items are of a different colour, which is a nice change every once in a while. Of these three, the Amstrad version has the least amount colour, making it look a bit more dull than the others. Then of course, the C64 conversion has taken the exact opposite direction, and went for a more blocky, but colourful look, but has not as much ornamentation around the action screen, which looks a bit boring. The NES version has managed to get the best of both worlds, but also has the least amount of details. All in all, it's a very difficult lot to make any decisions on, because all versions have their plusses and minuses, but this is how I would put it...




What could be more fitting for a soundtrack in this sort of game than surf rock? The answer is obviously nothing, and that's what the soundtrack begins with, but the original arcade game has a very wide array of tunes in its soundtrack, as ALL the 15 sections have their own tune. All the tunes give their own distinctive feel to every section in the game, making it feel more like traveling around this world and elsewhere - Arabian, African, cheesy 50's horror-sounds from Mars, etc. My favourite is actually the track played during a section called "Cuprum", whatever that is supposed to be, which has this incredibly random-sounding industrial piece. In addition to all the greatly atmosphere-enhancing music, the arcade features a great sound effects library to give all the actions, enemies and items their own distinctive personality - most notably the speech samples and the homing crocodiles that come on the screen with the Jaws theme playing.

The soundtrack for the Spectrum-MSX-Amstrad threesome is slightly off, but doesn't really take too much away from the experience. I managed to pick out 4 songs that were played during the game, all designated for certain levels - sometimes different from the originals, but not too far off. The only thing that truly offends my ears, and anyone else's with a trained or otherwise tone-sensitive ear, are those certain low notes in some of the songs that are just a little bit off-key. There aren't too many sound effects, just a few blips, zaps and pops, but at least they are played simultaneously with the music, unless you happen to be playing the 48k Spectrum version, in which case you get no music at all.

It might come as no surprise, but the Amiga version comes closest to the original. Not really in the amount of songs in the soundtrack, but more in the way the songs are played. The instrumentation is top-notch in all the four songs I could pick out, and I would even go so far as to say they all sound better on the Amiga than they do in the original arcade version. So, it's a pity there are only four songs available. At least you do get a fair amount of very nicely made sound effects on top of it all.

I cannot be certain due to my inexperience about what sort of peripherals you have to use on the Atari ST to get any really good sounds out of it, but the basic sound chip has a really outdated and undeveloped sound in comparison to the Amiga, which makes most of these 16-bit comparisons a sad affair, but they have to be made with the very basic hardware elements in mind. That said, I'm sorry to say the ST soundtrack is surprisingly closer to the SPE/MSX/CPC soundtrack where the instrumentation is concerned. It's alright, but I would expect a lot better sounds from a 16-bit computer. What's even sadder about the ST version is that you can't play both the music and sound effects at the same time - you have to choose one or the other. At least the sound effects are miles ahead of the 8-bit threesome, but still not anywhere near as good as the Amiga sounds.

The same problem occurs on the C64 version - it's either the music or the effects. Both are good enough, but unfortunately you will only get three tunes to play in a looping succession of sections. While the lack of tunes may prove to be a source of irritation in the long run, at least they are all made with class and precision. Still, I would rather pick the SPE/MSX/CPC soundtrack over this one.

Considering everything, it seems ridiculous that the only home conversions to feature a tune for every section along with some fairly nice sound effects to play simultaneously with the music, are for the two Nintendo machines. The GBC version has more complete songs than the NES, but at least both of them do feature a tune for every level, and have to be commended for that. Of course, the NES version sounds very much like any other NES game, but the GBC version has a strange feel of overachievement in its soundtrack, having more to it than necessary. It does sound rather good, really, but it's just not quite the same as the original. Whether it's better or worse is another matter entirely, and perhaps not a worry that should be pondered on in here.

Last, and very close to also being the least, comes the DOS version, having only one lousy tune in the title screen, which doesn't even sound much like anything from the original game. During play, you only get bleepy effects, which are good and varied enough, considering you're playing a fairly old DOS game. It certainly beats the 48k Spectrum version, but only just.

3. NES
7. DOS



Arcade games had started to lose some of their worth by the time Toobin' came along, since more and more games on the home computers and consoles had started taking form of their own, and score-based gaming had started to lose its place in the gaming world. So, in order to get young people back to the arcades needed some properly fresh ideas. Toobin' was one of the more interesting titles at the time, but I'm not entirely certain it got all the attention it deserved. Certainly it got enough home conversions to be considered a hit game, but was it, after all? The gameplay was quirky enough to make a home conversion more difficult to make than usual, but simple enough to make it feel like an old-school arcade game: repetitive, but addictive.

I admit, this was not one of my favourite projects to work on, because of the relatively monotonous gameplay, and the amount of versions to go through. The outcome of this comparison is more interesting, to be sure, than the actual comparing bit of it, so I hope it will be worth the bother. It has been a long time coming, but here are the traditional mathematical results.

1. ARCADE: Playability 6, Graphics 6, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 20
2. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 15
3. ATARI ST: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 13
4. GAMEBOY COLOR: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 12
4. DOS VGA: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 12
5. NINTENDO NES: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 11
5. DOS CGA: Playability 5, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 11
5. DOS EGA: Playability 5, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 11
6. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 10
6. MSX: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 10
6. COMMODORE 64: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 10
6. DOS TGA: Playability 5, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 10
7. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 9
8. DOS HRC: Playability 5, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
9. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 7

High score on the Atari ST version.
Well, that looks a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? So, if you decided to skip through the whole text and came down here just to see the so-called results, get back up and see what the game is really like to play, watch and listen to, and make your own conclusions. Sure enough, the arcade version is the best one around, but after that, I suppose it's anybody's own opinion what matters again. Just don't concentrate on the score and you'll be alright.

Thanks for reading again, and thanks for the suggestion! Comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome, but don't expect too much for now...

1 comment:

  1. Brandon Campbell29 August 2014 at 12:56

    I remember liking this in the arcade, but had no idea they ever released it for home computers, especially my lowly (by that time) Commodore 64!